Lithuania, 1967. My mom is in the center, with my sister and me on either side of her.
My mom had beautiful posture when she was young, as you can see in the photo above. Here she is, flanked by my sister and me. Note her open chest, lengthened neck, and head pivoting on the axis of the spine. I believe healthy posture has helped her age well. When she recently developed leg pain, she assumed it was part of the aging process and that there was nothing she could do about it. But happily, after working with some Gokhale Method techniques, her pain has subsided.
As a result, she now sleeps better and has more energy. She’s even resumed some light housekeeping. To help protect her back while vacuuming and sweeping the floor, I taught her the inner corset technique.
The inner corset: what is it?
Anytime one lifts, twists, or moves their arms or legs away from the body, there is an opportunity to distort the spine. Distortion puts unhealthy stress on bones, joints, and nerves. The inner corset technique is crucial in protecting one's back while in action. It lengthens and decompresses the spine by activating our deepest abdominal and deepest back muscles (transversus abdominis, obliques and rotatores, and multifidi). This muscular engagement forms a “corset,” which preserves the spine through physical activities. Notice how the discs are protected with extra space in the illustration below.
We all have this muscular engagement pattern available. It is automatically activated with activity that poses an immediate threat to the spine, such as jumping off a high place. However, when the threat is low: picking up a grocery bag or vacuuming, this instinctive bracing is not activated. Most back problems are a result of cumulative misuse of the body. Therefore, learning to use the inner corset in daily activities is the key!
Hands-on help from a Gokhale Method teacher is the best way to find the right muscles. This is true of teaching my mom, as well. While working with her, I was able to help her use her breath to engage her inner corset (see below). Teachers often practice this with students several times to create new muscle memory, and I did the same with my mom.
Helping my mom locate the correct muscles by using her breath also helps her build muscle memory.
Vacuuming with an active inner corset
Alas, with her inner corset in place, my mom is now ready for action. She has always enjoyed housekeeping and continues to vacuum and clean at 95! Now she can keep her back lengthened and maintain her spine’s structural integrity while she does this work. Engaging her inner corset allows her arms to move independently of her torso. It’s a win-win: a workout session for the abdominal and back muscles; meanwhile, the back is protected, and the house is clean!
My mom shows no sign of slowing down now that she’s learned Gokhale Method techniques.
I am so grateful my mom gave the Gokhale Method a chance. Not only did it help relieve her nighttime leg pain — as I described in my previous blog post — she now has tools to keep her activities safe! To her huge credit, it took an open mind, a bit of courage, and effort to try something new. I am so proud of her. I believe one is never too old to learn a few Gokhale Method tricks. And we never know what changes are possible until we try!